What’s your software number? And can you reduce it?

ap-automation-revolutionCIOs are confronted daily with the knowledge their organizations own – and manage, maintain and service – way too many software products. I routinely talk with companies that own between 150 and over 1,000 products. One of the first things I do is share with them – as I’m sharing with you – that they can reduce this number.

I do not envy these CIOs. Administration, maintenance and service of all these products is significantly difficult. There are interdependencies among these products, such as being tied to one or more particular OS or browser versions.

These interdependencies can have a cascading effect when a critical line-of-business system is planned for upgrade and forces an additional upgrade in the environment. This does, in turn, impact other software products, imposing more upgrades to ensure that all products remain compatible.

I’m glad that I meet more CIOs in the 150 to 350 end of this application sprawl spectrum, but the reality is all of these organizations will continue adding software to their enterprises. In order to improve processes, or reduce or remove areas where human operations are best replaced with automation, we will all continue to add software.

Adding software – and adding silos

Nearly every additional product introduces a silo of information: a singular database of tables or a spreadsheet or some other representation of discrete values that make up the solution. Because efficient employees require access to data correlated among multiple silos, companies often need to use custom code in order to integrate the data among them. Custom code is yet another complexity to be managed and maintained.

So no matter what your number is today, the reality is you are sure to increase this complexity over time.

But does this mean your number of applications/products must rise? Or that the quantity of data silos must increase? Or that more custom code is in your future?

Fortunately the answer is, ‘No.’

The promise of ECM

Today, many companies know that enterprise content management (ECM) products are great data aggregators – and so much more than glorified filing cabinets.

ECM provides a development platform where you can build the software solutions you need. ECM lets you configure departmental discrete data and integrate it with data in your existing software products without writing custom code. With the inherent nature of how ECM products are naturally extended by defining data, they can define process automation workflows without inventing a new silo.

The beauty of ECM  is that all configured data can be integrated into any workflow.

Your line of business products that offer workflow are either trapped because they can only use data specifically defined within their data silo, or they depend on integration methods that require custom code and API calls to access data in a private silo.

ECM as an application development platform

I urge CIOs to think of ECM features as if they are “programming language primitives” and the discrete indexing values as “variables.” When content arrives, it is indexed leveraging automated and guaranteed methods that ensure data accuracy without manual effort.

The discrete indexing values enable the content to flow into workflow logic that checks and compares these values to values applied to other content. Configured ECM workflow logic is just like a 5th generation programming language. It’s much simpler to learn than traditional 3rd generation languages like C#, JavaScript, etc. It’s also much easier to maintain.

Connecting workflow to applications

Although the capabilities of ECM as a solution development platform differ from vendor to vendor, most provide a way to build visual applications that can be integrated with workflow.

A common practice is using HTML or XML to produce data entry applications users will interact with. You can then surface these applications in many different ECM client environments, allowing users to interact with the application and related content in the ECM system. So instead of buying a new software product, ECM lets you easily build it yourself.

Some ECM vendors take this concept further, enabling the creation of an actual database schema and data entry screens for this data.

This allows storage of the application data within the ECM database, enabling the application to work efficiently from an I/O perspective. It also enables data reporting and analytics directly from the database.

What’s more, some ECM solutions provide these application development opportunities using future-proof strategies – meaning a solution built on these technologies will work after any future upgrade.

Deepening the promise: integrated data and killing custom code

CIOs can and should be maximizing their ECM product. When solutions are built using ECM tools and features, you can add an unlimited number of applications to the mix without raising the number of vended products or your number of information silos – and without relying on custom code!

Each application schema of discrete values is stored within the ECM system and can be integrated with all other ECM solutions without custom code. This removal of integration effort is huge. Furthermore, the application can link to data from other applications, enabling productive efficiency for your users.

Adding software solutions by building them within your ECM platform won’t increase your number of supported products. Your complexity of upgrades and interdependencies won’t worsen. And if you replace any current product with an ECM solution, you can actually reduce your overall count.

Check out my next post, Build vs. Buy – A New Paradigm.

Bill Filion

Bill Filion

Bill Filion is the vice president of software development for Hyland. Bill manages all development of OnBase and sets the strategic vision for continuing the education, advancement and maturation of Hyland's development teams. When he joined Hyland in 1997 as a Senior Developer, Bill focused his development around the OnBase file I/O infrastructure, the database software layer, export/publishing and all facets of CD/DVD Authoring. In 2001, Bill was promoted to manager of the OnBase Thick Client Development team. Bill was promoted to Vice President of Development in 2006. Prior to joining Hyland, Bill worked as a software consultant in the Cleveland area for both CAP Gemini Sogeti and Compuware. He received his B.A. in Computer Science from Hiram College in Hiram, Ohio.

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